Previous generations of workers fought their butts off for paid vacation leave. Some succeeded in getting this essential employee benefit from their employers. Others did not.
As a matter of fact, to this very day, the U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world with no mandatory minimum requirement for paid vacation for employees (the standard is now 20+).
This depressing chart gets more specific (look to the far right where there is a “0” in place of blue bars):
Pretty sad, given that this country has the largest economic output in the world and can afford a day off or two. Emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China have minimum standards for time off. Hell, even Iran, South Korea, Namibia, and Mexico are ahead of us in this work/life balance metric.
And remember, we’re also one of the few countries with no paid sick leave.
So that is why it is so disappointing to see that 77% of U.S. workers get paid vacation, yet only 51% of paid vacation days are used! More disturbingly (if not surprisingly), 61% of those who do take vacation are working while on vacation. Why do we do this to ourselves? Survey says:
- 33%: Afraid no one else at my company can do the work
- 28%: Fear of getting behind
- 22%: Complete dedication to company
- 19%: Want a promotion
- 19%: Feel like they can’t be disconnected
- 18%: Want a pay raise
- 17%: Afraid of not meeting goals
- 17%: Fear of losing job
- 16%: Believe working is better than not working
- 13%: Want to outperform colleagues
- 6%: Afraid of the boss
Only 3 of those 11 reasons are not based in fear. And even the three that aren’t (“complete dedication to company”, “want a promotion”, “want a pay raise”) probably have a deeper root cause that is based in fear (i.e. fear of not having enough money, status perception, or fear of getting fired).
A very very select few employers allow you to accrue unlimited vacation days that you can cash out when you retire (my father was one – retiring with around 2 years of paid vacation days when he retired after his entire career with one employer). Even with this rare benefit, there is a valid case for taking at least a healthy majority of allotted days before banking the remainder.
However, most of us will never realize that rare benefit. And to not use paid vacation days when you lose them and it is a defined benefit of your employment is sad. And it’s particularly sad when only 49% of low-wage workers (those in the bottom fourth of earners) are “lucky” enough to get paid vacation. How thankful and appreciative would they be if you were somehow able to transfer one of your unused vacation days to them?
Look, I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve bumped up against my maximum vacation accrual a number of times in the last 10+ years and lost days because I felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t take them. It didn’t used to be that way for me. When I got my first job with paid vacation days, I savored every one of them. Then I bought in to the various fearful excuses to not take them. I’ve used every one of them. But, they are just garbage floating around in your head, driven by irrational fear. I’ve recently come full circle on this and vow to never deprive myself from another vacation day. None of the excuses are legit. Or at least legit enough to deprive you and your family of needed time off.
We Americans are overworked. Possibly the most overworked, overstressed group of citizens on the planet. To not take vacation is clearly not good for our health. Outside of competitive reasons, your paid vacation allotment is there for a reason – we all need time to unplug, unwind, and recharge in order to be the most effective people we can be at home AND at work. We need to live, breath, and connect with real live human beings (and nature) outside of the paid characters we must associate with at work. If your specific boss or employer does not appreciate that, then quite frankly, screw them. You are better off with one who does. And if you don’t appreciate it, there’s no better time to start than RIGHT NOW.
I’d be more curious to see what the mean and median are for the average citizen of each country than what the government mandates. I agree with the end result of a better work-life balance, just not with means to get there (increased government regulation).
Maybe if deregulation occurred, our jobs and nation would become more efficient (less wading through bureaucratic bull***) so there would be more opportunity for vacation!
I spent some time in S.Korea and Mexico and there were very large national debates about lowering the mandated days off to be more in line with america. I don’t think there should be mandated days off just like there aren’t any mandated work days, it’s up to you to do what you feel is necessary for your situation, if you want to take time off,take time off. If you want to work go to work. also Americans are by no means overworked a lot of Asian country’s work 6 day work weaks and recently there were reports of Japanese business men dying from sleep deprivation and stress on their desks. If America became a superpower with their current work ethic why change it?
I agree with some of the other comments. There shouldn’t be a mandated amount of paid vacation days. It’s a deal you strike between you and your employer when you are hired. If you don’t like a companies policy of not offering enough paid vacation days, go work somewhere else.
I wasn’t offered paid days off until getting a non-entry level job after graduating college. I don’t know anyone in non-entry level positions that don’t get paid time off. It’s a benefit (a costly benefit) that comes with more job responsibility, just like 401k contributions, bonuses, etc.
What also comes with more job responsibility is a duty to fulfill your role in the company, which can mean skipping paid time off to complete work. It’s part of life. If you want to get ahead you might have to sacrifice some luxuries. But what is important is that it’s a choice we can all make.
The goal of this post is not to get people to rally behind mandated paid vacation days, rather, convince those who actually are fortunate enough to get them to take them, enjoy them, and not feel guilty about it.
I have personally used every vacation day I have ever earned and then a few.. While I have heard man colleagues who have way more days than they can use. Well that just tells me they are doing something wrong.
Why would anyone feel guilty about it and be afraid they will get passed over. I received 4 – 5 contacts a week from job recruiters.. There are other companies who desire my skills so I would go where it is appreciated and use the vacation time I earn to recharge.
If nothing else if you really truly won’t take them because you love your job and don’t think of it as work as this is the case with some… You must make sure your employer pays you out for days you don’t use that expire based on their rules. If not you are leaving money on the table… taking a pay cut essentially.
Probably 50% of the days I take from my day job involve me working another side gig because honestly I would get bored if I did nothing.. So while a vacation I make it productive and do something else I enjoy outside of my day job.
I am fortunate enough to work for a large corporation with great benefits. I get 15 paid vacation days, 2 personal holidays, and 11 company holidays a year. I am able to roll 5 days a year and have only done this once when planning a Europe trip for the next year. I make it my personal happiness goal to take every vacation day on an actual vacation, preferable out of the country where it is very difficult for me to work while on vacation. My career has not suffered from my vacations; I’ve had 3 promotions since I started 8 years ago straight out of college and more than doubled my salary.
Company culture is a the heart of the fear, and competitive view of vacation day use and working while on vacation. I am fortunate to work for a company and have a manager who values work/life balance and I will take every day they give me! In fact I wish I could buy more! Some companies offer the poorly unity to buy an extra week of vacation and most people (shocking to me) don’t do that. I’d gladly take one week less pay divided out by 24 paycheck for an extra week. Since my company does not offer that buy back I just have to wait 2 more years to hit 10 years and get a 4th week paid vacation. :-)
I’m in this situation as well. I have been working for 8 years (currently I have 4 weeks vacation and 10 holidays). I have taken long European vacations where there is no way to communicate with work. I hesitated because of the fear that no one could do my job, but worked with a person who did it in the past who was willing to fill in if needed (chemical plant work can lead to extreme emergency situations). Every year, I have taken the majority of my vacation, taking one large chunk of 10-13 days and several small trips. Carry over is allowed, so I’ve never lost even an hour. Over this time, I’ve gotten 4 promotions, with 3 different job roles. It’s been a ride, and I travel more extremely (e.g. 2 Europe trips in one year from CA), making people wonder how much vacation I actually take; they are always over the free holidays, so that helps keep my allotted balance up.
If you consider your rate of pay to be the total amount that you get paid during the year divided by the number of hours worked, then working 50 weeks and getting paid for 52 weeks is equivalent to working 50 weeks and getting paid for 50 weeks at a 4% higher wage. Not taking your vacation effectively lowers your real rate of pay.
My previous job was the type that always made me feel like a sick or vacation day was a burden to everyone, so I rarely took them. I left the company and also left roughly a month of sick days as well. I will never do that again, this still maeks me sick thinking of the time i gave away. Oh well, I now take a sick day here and there to spend time with my family. Now that is the ultimate sick prevention day.
To me, if your company has separate sick and vacation buckets, you should view the sick days very much differently than the vacation. In my opinion, you should only use sick days when you are sick. The employer is giving them to you as a benefit, sure, but there is generally an understanding that you are to use them when sick.
Vacation is different in that you shouldn’t feel bad about taking it. They’re giving it to you so that you can get some days away from work, in my opinion, that should be guilt free!
You make an excellent point. My first year with my company I took a day off here and there as I built up PTO, but when I did was scolded and told “we need you to be here”. Then why do they give use PTO as part of our compensation package if they are going to criticize us for using a day here and a day there? It’s ridiculous. Now that I’m working on building side income so I can quit my FT job, I’m more likely to say “screw you” than I was before. I’m sure I’ll get even more that way I get closer and closer to having my side income match and exceed my FT job’s income. Can’t wait for that day!
I once got up to 396+ hours saved almost to my 400 hour limit before using it.
What about those of us who get paid out on PTO when we leave? My old company (a large, well known health company) reimbursed for unused PTO and had a lofty 280 hour maximum. My last paycheck was four paychecks haha!
My job was never so stressful that I needed to get away, though. Your mileage may vary. I did in my tenure use about half of what I accrued.
I completely agree with you.My job was never so stressful that I needed to get away.
Ironically enough, Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, says we American’s aren’t working hard enough… that we should be taking longer hours… when his brother set the record as President of taking time off.